The creators of ‘Dark’ are back with a thrilling puzzle series

Anyway, it’s not about time travel again. Jantje Friese and Baran bo Odar want to reveal that. After all, the screenwriter-director couple has already extensively turned that theme inside out in their supernatural series, which now counts three seasons. Dark (2017), with which they wrote the first major German-language Netflix series to their name. But where 1899 or about? Strange time jumps take place, and sometimes you wonder what is true and what is not.

The German press person who arranged the interview anxiously asks if I have received the spoiler list – all the things you as a journalist are asked not to write about. I say no, but promise to gracefully skirt the spoilers by not talking about the plot, but only the themes presented in the first episode. And there are quite a few. After watching six of the eight episodes, there are still a lot of puzzles that make the thrilling series something to not only binge, but also rewatch to get all the layers.

Baran bo Odar: “Without spoilers, we can say that our main interest this time was the structure of the human brain. The most important point is already in the first minute when Maura, one of the main characters, quotes from a poem by Emily Dickinson: ‘The Brain – is deeper than the sea’.”

That sea is everywhere. We are on board an ocean liner sailing from the old (Europe) to the new world (United States). A colorful group of characters, from German to Chinese, from Danish to Portuguese, each of whom converses in his own language (which was quite a logistical challenge on set) and dreams of a better life on the other side of the water. With the future on the horizon, each of them also has a life they leave behind. Secrets, guilt; you can also fill it in without knowing more. “At first glance 1899 a series about immigration,” says the creator duo.

“Our fantasy was triggered by a vintage photograph of a man in his underwear on the deck of a ship holding a bloodied hammer. Who was he? Why did he have that hammer in his hand?” Friese: “That is how we work. We have an image or an idea and a highly philosophical concept with scientific questions, and then we dive deep into our research and try to understand everything there is to know about the subject.”

Groundbreaking research

I tell them I’ve done some research, too: a simple Google search of what was going on in the world in 1899, and the first thing I came across was that 1899 was the year Sigmund Freud’s Dream Interpretation was published. Do I see them smiling through the Zoom screen? We’re still on safe ground, because in the first few minutes of the first episode, we’ve not only heard Maura recite that poem, but also seen her “wake up” (from a dream, a memory, something else?) and heard screaming that she’s not crazy. Friese: “You are on the right track, but it is not entirely correct. The end of the nineteenth century was an interesting period in which all kinds of discoveries were made in the fields of psychology and neuroscience. Man was on the border of an old and a new world.

Another highlight is the seventies music that can be heard at the end of each episode. Another period in which groundbreaking research was done.” At the end of the first episode, that’s “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane, the famously trippy Alice in Wonderlandsong, but that song has been used so many times – from The Matrix until Stranger Things – That’s more of a teaser than a spoiler.

Friese: “When Christopher Nolan made his dream film Inception he said in an interview that he was fascinated by the fact that in your dreams you are both the creator of your own dream world and the receiver, the spectator of your own dream. I also find that very interesting. You are the writer of a story while you are reading it at the same time.”

Another important motif that the viewer will quickly understand is the ‘architecture’ of the series. The episodes all follow a certain pattern, with recurring elements that function as plot motors, or pivot points. And in addition to important clues such as the name of the ship Prometheus, which soon encounters a rudderless ‘twin ship’ named Kerberos, there is also a lot going on with the ‘architecture’ of the ship. Friese: “In everything we make, we try to tell the story through as many cinematic means as possible. Not only conveying information through dialogue, but also thematically bringing together locations, light and camera movements so that the series can feel like a living, breathing thing. The ‘architecture’ of 1899 has similarities with something that becomes clear at the end of the eighth episode.”

Bo Odar: “We are extremely fascinated by the fact that everything we perceive, all the pain, all the emotions, happens somewhere in our head. And while we still need a body, somehow that is also a vehicle of our perception. I do believe that the body is also a brain in itself. In front of Dark at one point we came across research that showed that when you are thirsty, your arm moves towards a glass of water faster than that information arrives in your brain. 1899 certainly has to do with what your brain is capable of. Or not.”

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